The OL has been a M*A*S*H unit that has only been topped by the Eagles for injuries. As such we have seen glimpses of what could be, but that is often overwhelmed by the makeshift nature. An earlier article noted how the OL members ranked individually compared to their peers across the NFL using PFF ratings based after the Philadelphia game:
|Early rankings||Later rankings||UPDATED||CHANGE|
|Smith||53 of 69 tackles||23||52 of 67||22||46 of 70||+11|
|Free||64 of 69 tackles||8||59 of 67||12||60 of 70||+6|
|Cook||13 of 35 centers||63||15 of 34||55||24 of 36||-30|
|Livings||24 of 71 guards||66||13 of 73||82||16 of 79||+14|
|Bernadeau||68 of 71 guards||4||67 of 73||8||45 of 79||+39|
Livings has played at a high level all year. Bernadeau has improved significantly as he got healthy. Smith and Free have steadily improved but playing on islands their scores are artificially lowered. Cook seems to have regressed, but as PFF is a cumulative score and as he did not play several games, his scores were frozen.
Additionally, we have a remarkably young OL. This is in marked contrast to just a few years ago.
Further the younger players are the ones with the better measureables
We also added a new OL coach in Callahan. He was noted by his personal attention and individual training at camp this year. One particular change in philosophy for the OL was to have the tackles play on islands by themselves. This allowed the guards to focus on the middle of the line. Individually the tackles will sometimes fail, but the OL as a whole has improved.
This was part of a multi-year process to upgrade the OL. This year we had 4 of 5 new starters. Five if you discount three plays of the opener. We switched Free and Smith at tackles and added Livings and Bernadeau at guards. Cook replaced Costa at center.
Last year we drafted Smith, Arkin, and Nagy in the 1st, 4th, and 7th rounds. We added Kowalski as a UDFA. We had 4 of 5 starters in new positions. Starting lineup - Free, Nagy, Costa, Kosier, Smith as we moved Kosier to mentor Smith and added the rookie Nagy and 2nd year man Costa to the OL.
The year before we added Costa as a UDFA. We changed all backups as we tried to eke one more year out of the high priced OL. Free started at LT as we sent Flozell packing. Starting Lineup – Free, Kosier, Gurode, Davis, Colombo.
Smith – He is a 21 year old playing LT for first time in the NFL this year. We brought in all the OTs for pre-draft visits and considered all options including trade down scenarios before selecting the Tyronasaurus. It is rare for rookie OL to play well even for first rounders.
He was a major signing for USC and was a backup at LT to a number one draft pick. That same year Kahil signed with USC, but he was given a red-shirt year. The next year, Smith started at RT with Kahil as his backup. The third year, one of the tackles was going to move. USC decided that with Smith’s extreme youth to move Kahil instead and let Smith continue to develop at RT.
It is hard to go wrong with two tackles of that caliber. Smith left school early to be drafted last year at age 20. Kahil played another year at USC before being a first rounder this year.
Smith was drafted to be a LT eventually. His play was so good at RT his first year that eventually came this year. He started slowly this year but is now playing at the top end of average. Moved his PFF rankings up significantly since early in the season
PFF Scores from -1 to 1 is considered average with a mean of 0. Anything beyond those limits are considered noteworthy. Note the first three games compared to the rest.
Livings – He is a much maligned FA pickup, he was not well thought of based on his play for other teams. Yet the scouts thought he was misused and he has played way above average for most games.
Six of the ten games have been noteworthy good.
Costa – A UDFA, he was a sleeper to make the team after starting all three interior positions at Maryland. He was much hated for his play last year when he started in place of Gurode. Yet one should compare him to the Gurode of his second year not the pro-bowl years.
Then he had a memorably bad game early in the season last year that single-handedly moved him down 6 ranks. He ended up ranked 30 of 35 centers last year according to PFF. Yet, divide that year into thirds and you would see a dramatic improvement over the year. The coaches thought he further improved over the off-season.
|OC Costa||0.1||- -||- -||- -||6.3||-1.8||- -||- -||- -||- -|
Injured early he came back to an overwhelmingly positive game to show what the coaches saw in him.
Bernadeau – Bernie was another FA of whom many had higher hopes. He was the first FA signed by the team this year, as the scouts saw that he had improved every year he has played in the league. The team wanted to get the value without the development time, and as such, be a model for the other really young players on the team – Costa, Kowalski, then Nagy [before he was waived for injuries], Arkin, and Parnell.
Unfortunately, he was injured and required surgery in the off-season. Thus, he started slowly but the trend line is very promising.
We pressed him into playing center for the first NFL game with poor results. Even as the fourth string center, at least we had a fourth string center on the team. Yet worse, by moving him we had to play Dockery at RT.
|RG Bernadeau||-0.7||-1.5||-4.3||-1.4||-0.2||1.4||2.2||1.4||2.0||- -|
|OC Bernadeau||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||-3.5|
Note his last four games at guard have been noteworthy as he got healthy
Free – He was a fourth round draft pick. Fourth round picks are hit or miss. There are about 100 NFL caliber players each year. By the time you get to the 4th round, players have some sort of flaw. Teams that can identify the weakness and mitigate it can find a winner.
Not often game day eligible, we allowed him to develop focusing on LT. Pressed into action with the injuries to Colombo, he played well at RT. The next year we cut Flozell and went with Free at LT, where he played spectacularly well in his contract year. He took a smaller dollar contract for fewer years. He gave us a discount compared to better offers from Philadelphia and Tampa Bay among others. From his point of view, fewer years meant he was due one more big payday. From the team point of view, it gave us some insurance at LT while we got younger.
That year we were going to draft a LT. We brought in all the best OTs for pre-draft visits and ultimately drafted Smith, but not before considering all options and trade down scenarios.
Last year we moved Kosier to RG to mentor Smith. We had player-to-be-named-later at LT. First we had the rookie Nagy until he was injured. Then a few games with Dockery until he was injured. Holland stabilized the LG for a while until he was injured himself.
This has been an up and down year. He plays well with a solid guard next to him. Early in the season, he had a compromised Bernadeau, and the last game was with Dockery. With a healthy Bernadeau, and Free held his own as average. Given the philosophy of having the tackles play on islands by themselves, average is ok.
Kowalski – Another UDFA, he was also a sleeper to make the team in the drive to get younger and cheaper. His play at center, especially when Costa was injured forced the team to keep him and set off a row dominos that reverberated throughout the OL.
We had already decided to get rid of Colombo, and Davis. With the play of Kowalski, we asked Gurode to take a pay cut as we could not afford three centers. Gurode refused and was cut. Nagy was drafted that year and outplayed Holland. Holland was the last cut as the team took as much time as they could to evaluate the young players.
In my opinion, Kowalski could have started at center last year. Yet the team did not want another rookie on a very young line. The starters last year – Free, rookie Nagy, Costa in his second year, Kosier, rookie Smith.
Cook - With Costa and Kowalski as the centers, the team looked to upgrade the guards this year. Yet with both of them injured and not available at TC, the team added Cook as insurance. That policy was cashed in within days as Costa lasted three snaps in his first game after being back for just a week. In hindsight, it is easy to see that Costa was rushed back too early.
|OC Cook||0.1||1.6||0.9||0.4||- -||1.5||-3.6||1.0||-0.1||- -|
Cook was drafted and played his first year at right tackle. He has since backed up and started at both guard and center. His major value to the team was the Proctor role, being able to back up at multiple roles that minimize the number of backups on game day.
Dockery – Dockery was plan B for last year’s youth movement. Like Cook, this year, he was a veteran backup signed as an insurance policy that was cashed in within days. Unlike Cook, his play was marginal. He got injured himself and was not resigned at the end of last year.
|RG Dockery||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||-2.3|
This year with major injuries we held tryouts and signed Dockery and Loper, the King of the Roster Transaction List. Holland was better player at the tryouts, but after negotiations broke down we went with Dockery instead. Dockery made the final roster over Loper. That is about as good as it gets.
Parnell - A former basketball player, he is a project at tackle. The coaches rave about his work ethic and determination. We saw a glimpse of what the coaches were talking about this week.
|LT Parnell||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||0.1|
Arkin – He is another 4th round pick. He played tackle at a small school and the team knew he was a project. He took center snaps during the center crisis at camp. He played well considering he had never played center before. Yet we signed Cook soon after.
The coaches saw potential in the young OL. They added two free agents in Bernadeau and Livings to give time for them to develop. The scouts were high on both of them and they have played up to their scouting. We added Cook for insurance and had to cash in that insurance policy within days.
The OL is not a bunch of five individuals but have to play as a unit. We have not seen the starters for more than 3 games [two if you don’t count the three snaps of the opener]. When we used Cook as the center, it took some time for the rest of the team to work on the communication. We saw the number of penalties drop as the team got used to his timing.
We haven’t seen a healthy OL all year. Even Bernadeau took some time to get back to speed. His early games were disappointing to those who forget he was recovering from surgery. His last four games at guard showed what the scouts saw.
We are playing tackles on islands and sometime they will fail. Add in a 21 year old Smith playing LT for the first time in the NFL and it takes some time to develop. Yet we can see glimpses of what the coaches see for the long term.
Regardless of what folks think of Free this year, he is half-way through his contract. His pay is less than prime guard money now. He was signed to give us time to develop the young players. One has seen the development of Smith over the season and we had to play Parnell for the first time.
There is talk of moving him inside next year or of cutting him. Yet we need a new tackle in the draft this year anyhow. We have only Free, Smith and Parnell and ought to develop another.
We seem set at center and have solid guard depth. Livings is the second oldest player but is playing well. He was signed to a cap friendly deal that would allow us to cut him next year. Yet why would we cut him if he continues at the high level so far.
Dockery is the veteran backup and should go next year. We did not resign him last year as a FA, but brought him back as a warm body. Given the young guys development we can do better. Thanks to OCC for his help in formatting